A top European jazz group, Germany's WDR Big Band is a sophisticated ensemble, featuring an evolving line-up of some of the country's best musicians. A function of the German public broadcasting institution Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln based in Cologne, the WDR Big Band are musical ambassadors charged with promoting jazz and culture at home and around the world. Over their seven-plus-decades career, the WDR have released numerous albums on their own, featuring such guest artists as Ron Carter, Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, and others. Recognized internationally, they have earned plaudits, including a German Jazz Award for their work on arranger Vince Mendoza's 1992 album Jazzpaña, and a Grammy Award for their 2005 Brecker Brothers collaboration Some Skunk Funk. Although much of the WDR Big Band's performances take place in Germany, they often tour the globe.
Formed in Cologne in 1946 as the Kölner Tanz-und-Unterhaltungsorchester under the leadership of Otto Gerdes, the WDR Big Band initially played traditional and classical music, working alongside a string orchestra. Conductor Adalbert Luczkowski took over as bandleader in 1947 and helped establish the band's reputation. With the growing German record industry centered in Cologne after WWII, the band attracted the top echelon of musicians. In 1957, they added well-known bandleader Kurt Edelhagen who helped push the group toward playing more jazz-oriented material. There were also contributions from other musical directors including Werner Müller, who briefly renamed the ensemble in the late '60s "the Werner Müller Dance Orchestra". Also around this time, the big band and the strings were separated, with the strings becoming part of the Cologne Radio Orchestra. After Müller's departure, Dutch trumpeter, conductor, and composer Jerry van Rooyen took over as bandleader, further pushing the group into modern jazz.